Posts Tagged ‘change’
Changing the Conversation: A Third Way for Congregations by Anthony B. Robinson, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008, 199 pp.
Anthony Robinson is among my favorite authors when it comes to explaining the changes facing the world, articulating their impact on the church, and raising the questions that we all need to contemplate in response. In this book, he takes it farther, drawing some conclusions about what mainline congregations need to do to engage with this new era. In Transforming Congregational Culture (one of my favorite guides for leading change in the church), Robinson makes the case for why change is necessary and hints at the kinds of changes that will be required. Changing the Conversation is a tool to help congregations launch the conversations that will engage the work of transformation.
The premise implied in the title is that congregations have been having conversations for the last few decades about whether they are liberal or conservative in their politics, traditional or contemporary in their worship style, emergent or established in their way of life. Robinson labels these conversations ubiquitous, unhelpful and even destructive. (4) The third way moves beyond “either/or” into “both/and.” How can we be about faith formation AND social justice? How can we be about personal transformation AND public transformation? How can we be serious about scripture AND about reason? The path he charts guides congregations around those unhelpful conversations and into new ones, conversations that will move the church forward into a new way of life.
Much of the material was familiar to me, both from Robinson’s other books and from a myriad of authors addressing similar topics, like Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, Phyllis Tickle, and Gil Rendle. However, this book is unique because it condenses all that material into short, topical chapters that are perfect for discussion with leadership groups in congregations. I ordered copies of this book for every member of my church Council, and we are going to be working through these conversations throughout the coming year, one chapter at a time.
Robinson covers all the major topics that churches should be considering. The first two chapters are titled, “It’s Not About You” and “And Yet…It Is About You.” These two chapters recap his earlier work (which I think is some of the best out there for mainline churches) on the death of Christendom and its implications for the church. The third chapter puts forth the key challenge for mainline churches: moving beyond civic faith to have “a new heart,” passionate about God and following the way of Christ. This chapter reminded me of a line in Martha Grace Reese’s work in Unbinding the Gospel, “You can’t give what you don’t got. Changing the church demands that all of us grow in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus Christ. He imagines four chambers of this new heart:
an encounter with the living God and the message of and about God; the power and purpose of Scripture; evangelism for the “churched”; and reclaiming theology as “wisdom proper to the life of believers.” These are four aspects of one whole transformation, that is, being “formed anew” or “formed over” by the living God. (79)
Subsequent chapters address more specific questions: leadership and governance, vision, purpose, mission and public role, stewardship and faith formation.
One of the most important things for me in this book was the chapter on a church’s purpose. Robinson traces a variety of authors (including each of the Gospel writers) on the purpose of the church, such as making disciples, changing lives, embodying Christ’s way of life in the world, glorifying God. All of these are variations on a theme. In a workshop with Robinson I attended on Sunday, he put it this way, “we’re in the people-making business,” making Christians not just by conversion but by a steady, shaping way of life. I think clarity of purpose is critical for all congregations, because it should shape everything else. Our purpose guides what we do (and what we don’t do), and how we go about it. We need to be clear on it, and reiterate it over and over again in everything we do as a church. For my congregation, this will be our starting place. We developed a purpose a few years ago, but we have not revisited it recently.
While I may have read or heard many of these ideas before at multiple clergy workshops, and while our church has already been doing this conversational work together over the last five years, it will still be new to many of the Council members reading this book throughout the year. For me, it is a reminder that the conversation needs to be ongoing, not just a one-time thing. Most importantly, this book (far more than many others) does not just lament the past or imagine the future in vague and dreamy ways. Robinson’s questions and model of congregational conversations offers a path for practical, local, immediate and meaningful ways for real churches to engage with change. Rather than feeling overwhelmed, I finished Changing the Conversation thinking, “we can do this!” I can imagine my church having all these conversations, and, with the help of this book, we will.
Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation by Carol Howard Merritt, Alban Institute, 2010, 139 pp.
This is the follow-up volume to Merritt’s Tribal Church. Tribal Church mapped out the contours of the next generation, describing with insightful detail the cultural promise and pressures facing Generations X and Y. I finished Tribal Church frustrated that it did not offer as much wisdom as I had hoped about how to be engaged in ministry within this new cultural reality. Reframing Hope picked up where Tribal Church left off, and started to paint a picture of ministry in a new era.
Merritt’s gift is not a program or a plan of action for ministry. Instead, she is able to draw a portrait, an evocative image of what ministry can look like with a new generation. Instead of spelling out “do this, don’t do that,” she carefully draws out the places that hope is found and Christianity is alive anew. In broad strokes, she points out areas that need attention and reformation: authority, community, means of communication, the way the Gospel is told, activism, connection to creation and spirituality. The picture as a whole is still blurry, because we are still figuring out what this new Christianity looks like, but Merritt provides concrete anecdotes that are hi-res clear.
Merritt does an excellent job of distilling and naming subtle changes in understanding for our generation. She gives voice to things that seem vague and unnamed. One compelling example is her description of power and authority:
In a new generation, reliable information does not radiate from a central power; rather it moves underground, through networks, streets, relationships and friends.
Someone recently asked me where I look for information, insight and new ideas about ministry. I realized that there are very few authors or leaders that I turn to as authorities. Instead, I most admire my young colleagues in ministry, whom I connect with through the 2030 Clergy Network. They are my most reliable source, and they are available to me via social media.
Merritt also offers wise words about the impulse toward community.
We retain the cynicism that remains wary of institutions, yet we are weary from radical individualism. … A new generation is longing for authentic community, a place that nurtures our spiritual lives and develops deep concern for one another. We look for groups that understand the need for both individual responsibility and communal action.
Amen and amen. We realize that we cannot make it on our own, that we need one another, and that life together is richer and more full. Yet we do not turn to institutions to provide ready-made community. We are looking through institutions to build community that is authentic, intense, small and demanding.
Merritt’s book maps out the ways the historic church can be meaningful, relevant and life-giving for a new generation. Her reflections are deep and beautifully written, demanding contemplation rather than programming. It asks the church to orient itself in ways that are spiritual but not radical, so it can be a place of welcome and filled with hope.
I have driven by this church sign about once a month for the last four years. The words have remained unchanged in all that time: “Here since 1954.” Every time, it makes me wonder, “Does this church actually DO anything, or is it just here?”
“Here since 1954″ makes me wonder if the church has ever moved or changed at all. Are they still doing things now like they did back then? The year 1954 evokes images of a Leave It To Beaver church, full of button-down boys and crinoline girls sitting neatly in a row. It is foreign to my broken life, to a living God, to a real community, to a world in need, to a message of hope and purpose.
“Here” is a noun, a place. Is this church’s greatest accomplishment simply existing, holding down their corner property on a prominent thoroughfare? Surely there must be some verbs alive and well since 1954. How much more interesting would it be if they replaced “here” with any number of action words? Serving, growing, learning, worshiping, inspiring, praying, witnessing, proclaiming, giving, living. Throw in a single bonus descriptor like “together” or “faithfully” or “this community” or even “God,” and the church becomes downright interesting.
I visited this church’s website, and they seem a lively enough place to worship. They had pictures of smiling people, vibrant altar colors, and sermon recordings online. The problem is: I drive by their building every week, and never knew any of that. How many of our churches suffer the same problem?
This church is not alone. I lift up this church’s example not to be snarky, but because their sign speaks to a deeper concern. Every time I drive, my heart hurts for the vitality of the gospel and the witness of the church. I know that there are people, especially those that live in the neighborhood, who are desperate for community, for good news, for hope and grace. I believe that this church, by the power of the Spirit, has all those things to offer. But the only message we see is the one that tells us they haven’t gone anywhere in more than 50 years.
Every church struggles with this challenge. How do we let people know that this is the place to find life? Every word on our signs, every image we project, the weeds in our church yards and the condition of the paint on our buildings communicates a message to the world. Is it a message of life-giving vitality? Do we vibrate with the verbs? Or do we just tell people that we’re here, like we’ve always been here—whether for 50 years, 150 years, or 350 years.
Assuming our church is in fact a life-giving, active, changing, growing place (which is not always true), how do we communicate that to people who pass by? The rise of the “nones” (people with no religious affiliation) has been all the news this week. Many of those absent from our religious communities believe that the church and Christianity are out of touch and out of date. Yet they most also continue to believe in God, pray and understand themselves as spiritual beings. They just don’t think the church has anything relevant to offer on those matters.
For too many people, the church has become a noun, a place—unmoved and unmoving, fixed in space, here since 33 CE. In our signs, images and publicity, we must find our verbs again. More importantly, in our worship, our community and our ministry, we must be active and vital, so that the verbs take over. We are not just “here.” We are serving, loving, praying, caring, connecting, living, worshiping, uniting, working, building, growing, learning, deepening, stretching, discovering, listening, helping, changing and infinitely more, by the power of the Spirit. May all those who seek life see Christ alive in us.
Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to ask the Questions, by Rachel Held Evans, Zondervan, 2010, 232 pp.
I first encountered Rachel Held Evans when several of her blog posts received dozens of “shares” in my Facebook news feed. She wrote with wit and insight, with a cutting critique and a sense of kindness and grace. That voice has come through again and again, even as her blog has expanded to rock star status. I was eager to read Evolving in Monkey Town to hear more of her voice, because I expected it to be humorous, faithful, inspiring and fun. I made myself save it as a treat for the airplane ride to the Holy Land, and I was not disappointed.
Evans grew up in Dayton, Tennessee, better known as “Monkey Town,” the site of the 1925 Scopes Trial which put Clarence Darrow against William Jennings Bryan in a battle over evolution, faith and fundamentalism. Evans grew up on the losing side of that trial, in a fundamentalist enclave of church and Bible college. The isolation and insularity of that community, however, made her feel like they were on the winning team in all things. That is, until she began to ask questions and express doubts.
Evolving in Monkey Town tells the story of her journey into a different kind of faith. Unlike so many other authors who write about leaving behind fundamentalism, Evans is not bitter. She does not express animosity toward her upbringing, although she does write about the pain of rejection, the frightening wilderness of doubt and the loneliness of the struggle. She maintains grace and humor for her detractors.
Evans’ story feels familiar in many ways. It parallels the stories of so many who have left fundamentalism behind. She talks about being an “evolutionist,” which is not a claim about her understanding of science. She writes:
Just as living organisms are said to evolve over time, so faith evolves, on both a personal and collective level. … I’m an evolutionist because I believe the best way to reclaim the gospel in times of change is not to cling more tightly to our convictions, but to hold them with an open hand. … If it hadn’t been for evolution, I might have lost my faith. (21-22)
The central claim of the book is that doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is what allows faith to survive and grow. Evans works through a familiar list of doubts and questions. Does God really send all non-Christians to hell? What kind of God would condemn people who by “cosmic lottery” were born in a time and place where they didn’t know Jesus? How can you maintain that there is a biblical world view when the Bible is so full of contradictions? If God’s ways are not our ways, why can’t God exercise grace and forgiveness—not angry judgment and casting out of all who are different? Shouldn’t following Jesus inspire us to generosity and compassion, not just certainty about our eternal future?
Evans answers the familiar doubts of those moving beyond fundamentalist faith with humor, openness and room to grow. Her relative youth brings a fresh perspective to these longstanding debates, and her honesty invites us all to explore our relationship to the “false fundamentals” (207) that hold us back. Her writing is accessible to all kinds of readers, and the book is full of engaging stories and beautiful turns of phrase. It would make a great group study for those who are questioning their faith or engaging a path out of fundamentalism, but that is not the limits of its audience. Anyone looking for fresh insights about the path of faith and doubt would find a good companion in Evolving in Monkey Town.
By the time we finished Hana Bendcowsky’s tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we were on information overload and sensory overstimulation. Thankfully, it was time to go to lunch. We didn’t realize, however, that our lunch was going to be an even more worshipful, insightful, emotional time—and would last well into the afternoon.
Our lunch was hosted by Wujoud, an organization dedicated to remembering and honoring Palestinian culture and especially empowering Palestinian women. Turning off one of the crowded stone paths of the Old City, we entered a building that you wouldn’t know existed from the street. Inside was a small museum, but we went upstairs where we could smell lunch cooking. It wasn’t a restaurant, simply a small kitchen and a few tables set up for us in one room. The women in the kitchen were preparing a Palestinian dish called “upside down,” which was made of cauliflower and carrots and onions on the bottom, rice on top, cooked all together in one pot. The trick is then to flip the dish over and keep the rice standing in the shape of the pot—hence the name “upside down.” Our cook was a master, and it was both beautiful and delicious. Although all the meals we have had have been delicious (especially lunch, which is at a local restaurant, as opposed to breakfast and dinner at the hotel), this one was one of the best. Not just because of the good, homemade food, but because it was prepared with love and served with warm hospitality. The environment felt more like a church supper than a restaurant in a foreign country. We all treasured the space they had created for us and the meal they had prepared.
After lunch, they invited us to tour the museum, but not before we met Noora Qertt, the director of the organization. Noora is a Palestinian Christian, and she has dedicated her life to preserving the culture of her people, empowering Palestinian women, fighting for justice every day, and living her Christian faith as a daily witness to peace. Her witness, her energy and her courage were awe-inspiring. Her organization has a collective of 550 women doing embroidery at home to sell in her shops and in collaboration with churches around the world. They have women learning to be professional chefs and jewelry-makers, and playing in sports leagues, along with many other programs.
Noora told us about the building we sat in, which was a gift from the Orthodox church to her organization in recognition for all her good work. However, the building was falling apart when she received it, so she had to raise half a million dollars to restore it. Once she had the building, she went to people’s homes and looked through the old things and furniture they had representing life among the Palestinian people, then she talked them into donating it to the museum. The walls were covered with old photographs of Palestinian life before 1948. Downstairs, there was a room divided in two halves, like two Palestinian homes, one wealthier and one poorer, with a hearth and furniture and food and the things of home. They had amazingly beautiful hand-embroidered clothing, baptismal gowns and hats, along with furniture and woodwork from Palestine’s past.
The name of the organization, Wujoud, means “existence” in Arabic. Noora’s work, first and foremost, is to help the world hear from the Palestinians: “we exist.” They are a real people, with a real heritage and culture and faith—some Muslim, some Christian. Noora had worshipped alongside us just a little while earlier in the Arabic Orthodox Chapel at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where she has worshipped her whole life. Regardless of your opinion on the State of Israel, its current actions and history, or the way forward, Noora made powerful claims about the history of her community in this place. Just as an example, she said that when she gave a lecture once, someone asked her, “How long have you been a Christian?” She answered curtly, “Since Pentecost.” The Christians in this area claim their roots worshipping Christ here since the first century.
That story was one among many Noora told that showed her courage and refusal to be diminished, in spite of occupation. She told the story of a building project that her organization was doing in the West Bank, building a gym or school or other community building. The engineer was stopped at a checkpoint and asked to strip down. He refused the command in order to maintain his dignity, choosing instead to return to Noora with his resignation from the project. Instead of letting him go or telling him, “this is just how it is,” she asked him to accompany her back to the same checkpoint. When he pointed out the officer who had made the demand, Noora got out of the car and began walking up to him. Every gun was trained on her, but she showed that she was carrying nothing and kept moving slowly forward. She approached the officer, and told him about what had happened. She did not beg him, she did not plead with him. She explained that her organization and what they were doing in the West Bank would help eliminate violence by giving productive work and community, and she needed her engineer to be able to pass with his dignity intact. The officer was unmoved. She appealed to his humanity, “I can see you are not this man with a gun. You are a faithful man with a family back home that you want to return to. Tell you what I’m going to do for you. I’m going to pray for you. I’m going to pray that you get to go home from here safely, back to your family, that you never again have to pick up this gun and work at this checkpoint anymore, and you get to return to your life again.” With that, the officer relented, “Go, go,” he said, and let her and the engineer pass through smoothly.
Noora told many other stories like that one, and what I heard in all of them was how dehumanizing the Palestinian occupation is, not just for Palestinians, but for the Israeli Defense Forces guarding the checkpoints. Noora’s story was an account of the everyday work of making justice and peace. It was not about solving the thorny mess of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it was about restoring the dignity and humanity of her engineer by restoring the dignity and humanity of the soldier, using her body and her prayer as a path to one moment of peace and justice.
I have long preached that peace and justice begin with each one of us acting in the world with love and compassion, but Noora’s stories gave me a whole new appreciation for what that might look like. In my daily life, how do I restore dignity and humanity to those around me, so that we can approach one another in a just relationship? In situations where I am powerless, do I work to reclaim my own humanity by speaking to the humanity of my antagonist? In situations when I am powerful, how do I restore dignity to those who are powerless? Would I have that kind of courage and imagination to act outside of the rules, and thereby change the situation altogether?
Noora’s work and her example made a profound impact on me. The hour at lunch and hour listening to her stories felt more like church than anything else we had experienced so far that day, on what was supposedly the most holy site in all of Christianity. Her faith inspired her to act with love even for her enemies, to be courageous in the face of great danger, and to refuse to let anyone but God tell her who she is and what she is worth. I am grateful for her witness.
Tomorrow is the big day—I am leaving for two weeks (16 days, counting travel days) on a Macedonian Ministries Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The preparations for this day have been going on for months. I applied to the program last spring, and planned this sabbatical around it last June. Our group (all mid-career pastors) first met for a retreat in October, where we read and talked and prayed deeply about God’s call in our lives. We have met twice since then, and we have studied the history of the region, the violence and conflict, and the three faiths that share the land. We have meditated on the spiritual practice of pilgrimage.
Personally, I have shopped for new shoes and new clothes. The laundry is done, and the packing is almost complete. Bills are paid, childcare arranged, house ordered. During sabbatical, I have read a few extra books, prayed, contemplated, bought a few more books , and even reread the Gospels. Most of all, I have worked to open my heart to whatever this journey might offer. I have tried to let go of excessive expectations, to set aside diligent plans, to leave behind extra baggage (literally and spiritually), and open my spirit to attend to God more carefully on this journey.
And I think that’s what makes me the most nervous this night before departure. Yes, I have normal travel jitters. This is the first time I will leave my child for such a long time, and so far away. I am asking my spouse to shoulder a lot of weight while I am away, and there is always a risk of violence or catastrophe or emergency. I am accustomed to all these small anxieties. There is no reason to worry, because there is nothing I can do about any of them.
The buildup and the expectations to this trip have been very big. My family, my church, my friends—everyone has their ideas about what I will see and what I will experience while I am away, and they are all expecting it to be profound. I share that quest. Will I really meet God there? Will it be the “Holy Land” really feel holy? What if it doesn’t? What will it be like to see with my own eyes the places that have been a part of my imagination since I was a child? Will the commercialism, the militarism, the tourism disappoint? I feel a bit of stress to make sure that I make the most of this, and wondering if I will be let down. Or if my experiences will let others down, who have so much interest in hearing all about it.
There is another, deeper edge to my travel anxieties. I am haunted by an excerpt from Charles Foster’s The Sacred Journey that one of our leaders read to us at our last gathering. The chapter was entitled, “The Dangers of Pilgrimage.” The passage talked about how the journey of pilgrimage is a metaphor for our whole life’s thrust toward God. The pilgrimage condenses so much energy into one large block of time that it threatens the familiar and the past. It is almost a certainty, Foster wrote, that nothing will be the same again. (paraphrased from meeting notes)
I am anxious about how this experience will change me. I already feel, over the last several months, that the solid ground beneath my feet is giving way to shifting sands, and God is doing a new thing with me. I don’t know what it is, but it is both exciting and daunting to feel God on the move. As I contemplate the pilgrimage, I realize I’m not really stressed that I won’t feel God’s presence—I’m worried that I will. God’s voice can speak sometimes with comfort, hope and consolation, but I have a feeling this time around that God’s message for me will be of a more unsettling variety. What if God issues a call to repentance, to honesty, to transformation, to trust, to new life, to courage? What if I come home and I am changed? What if God wants me to do something hard, or something I don’t want to do?
I feel the risk, the anxiety—but also the excitement. God is (always) about to do a new thing. I pray that I would have eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to respond.
In recent months, I have been contemplating the slow transition into midlife. I’m not quite ready to claim the label yet (I’ll be turning 38 on my next birthday), but I’m definitely closer to midlife than to youth. It feels as though there is a subtle shift beginning in my perspective.
All my life, I’ve been the youngest one. While I was the oldest child in my family, I was always the youngest in my class at school. My late-year birthday meant that I started kindergarten at four and completed my first semester of college at 17. When I went to seminary at 23, I had worked for two years after college, but I was still six years younger than anyone else in my seminary class. I was ordained at 27, and did not know any ministers younger than me at the time. Even now, there are no other pastors in my denomination’s local association that are younger than me. My closest age peer is five years my senior.
In school and in ministry, in spite of my youth, I have done well. I am a quick learner, and I was able to keep up with my older classmates and coworkers. Part of my identity has always been this youthfulness, this sense of being somehow ahead for my age. Someone gave me the word for it: precocious. Being precocious has always been a part of what it means to be me.
This year, I marked 10 years of ordained ministry, 14 years of marriage, and I’ll soon have five years of parenthood. I am no longer new at any of these things. It is no longer interesting (to me or anyone else) that I should be competent at them, in spite of my age. After so much time, it is expected that I should know what I am doing, that I should be effective at my work, that I should be responsible and put-together. While it still happens from time to time, it is increasingly rare to hear someone marvel that I am “already” the pastor of a church.
For the most part, this is a great gift. After 10 years, it’s definitely old and perhaps also a bit insulting to have someone make over you for doing your job effectively. It is freeing to be normal, to have your competence no longer surprise people, to be treated with respect, and to be trusted as a knowledgeable leader. I no longer need to prove myself—people simply expect me to know what I’m doing.
At the same time, there is a corner of my ego that wonders what will be special about me going forward. Youth made me unique for a long time (probably longer than most, since I entered a profession in which the average age is 51). Being a quick learner and enthusiastic adventurer will keep youthfulness around even longer, but not with the same level of surprise and intrigue. I am no longer precocious. That is a word that belongs only to youth. The question in my mind is: what will replace it? That’s been a fairly significant part of my identity for my entire life. While I’m ready to let it go, I found myself wondering what will take its place.
Someone else gave me the word for that replacement: wisdom. Just as precocious is a term reserved for youth, wise is a descriptor that only comes with age. I’m definitely not ready to claim it yet. I’m not even sure it’s a term that can be claimed–perhaps it must be bestowed. I know it is a worthy aspiration. I aspire to be known as a wise woman, a wise leader, a wise pastor, or just simply wise. As I let go of the label “precocious” as part of my identity, I take comfort in thinking that “wise” might someday come to replace it.
For now, I dwell in between. If I think about it, I guess I have gained some insight, even a modicum of wisdom from my years of experience. It’s also true that there is a glimpse of the precocious left from time to time, since there are still many things I am doing for the first time. I am no longer precocious, but not yet wise. I wonder how long this in-between time will last.
Leadership for Vital Congregations, by Anthony B. Robinson, Pilgrim Press, 2006, 128 pp.
This is a book I wish I had found and read a long time ago–even before 2006, when it was first published. Over the last five years, I have been engaged in leading a church through a time of major change. I found Robinson’s book Transforming Congregational Culture incredibly helpful in understanding the kind of change required, and his book with Robert W. Wall, Called to Be Church: The Book of Acts for a New Day shaped a sermon series I preached to help my congregation understand and tackle these issues from a biblical framework. This book on leadership brought together much of what I have learned over the past five years of this journey, and encapsulated it in a clear, straightforward way. Having read Robinson’s earlier books and many of the books he cites as references, I felt familiar with most of the guidance he offers, but I have never seen anyone collect and share it so directly and concisely.
Robinson begins by describing various images of leadership, in an attempt to expand our images of leaders and their tasks. Influenced by Ron Heifetz, he describes the task of leaders as “mobilizing a group or community to make progress on its own toughest challenges and problems.” (24) He points out some factors unique to pastoral leadership, such as working with volunteers, being more accessible than most leaders, and understanding God’s leadership as ultimate. One chapter is a very helpful literature review of some of the most widely respected secular writers on leadership. This was an excellent introduction to these authors, but also serves to broaden the imagination about the function and purpose of leadership.
Robinson’s chapter entitled, “Pastoral Leadership: Seven Strategies,” is what really made me wish I’d had this book several years ago. He describes seven leadership strategies that pastors must follow in order to lead. They are sequential—you must do one before the other—but pastoral leaders are always doing all of these steps as they move ahead in leading congregations. Everything starts with building trust (Strategy One), and discerning what’s going on (Strategy Two), why we are here (Strategy Three) and what God is calling us to do (Strategy Four). Once change begins, the pastoral leader manages distress (Strategy Five), persists (Strategy Six) and helps build a learning congregation (Strategy Seven). This is exactly what we have been doing in our congregation over the last five years. It is almost an exact map of the terrain we have covered in our change process. I only wish I’d had the map ahead of time—it would have made me feel less like a wilderness wanderer!
The remaining chapters talk about sustainability practices in leadership. Robinson talks about growing and developing spiritual leaders, the role and responsibilities of the congregation, caring for your soul as a leader, and leadership itself as a spiritual practice. I have never heard anyone talk about leadership itself as a spiritual practice, and I found myself saying, “yes! yes! yes!” He outlines five specific examples drawn from the story of Moses about how leadership is a spiritual discipline, but I thought of a dozen more. For me, the act of prayer and discernment with God about my congregation and how I am called to challenge and connect with them is incredibly holy. It has made me a better Christian and a better person. The act of leading a congregation engages my heart and soul for God’s use just like personal prayer, study, meditation or sabbath-keeping. It shapes me in the ways of Christ. For example, our church is currently engaged in a capital campaign. Being a pastoral leader challenging others to greater generosity has transformed me into a more generous person. It was a gift and a revelation in this book for Robinson to name that as a spiritual discipline.
This book is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in engaging in deep, transformative work as a pastoral leader. In a few short pages, Robinson summarizes what that kind of leadership looks like, the basics of how to do it, what to expect and how to sustain it. This book will not tell you the details of why the church needs to change (see Transforming Congregational Culture for a good primer on that one), how to conduct a visioning or planning process, what changes the church should be making, or even what your changed church should look like. There are plenty of other books out there that will do that. Instead, Leadership for Vital Congregations tells you what kind of leader you need to be to get there. If you want to be that kind of transformational leader but don’t know how to start, start here. Like any map, this book won’t tell you where you need to go or describe the details of the landscape you’ll see. It will simply orient you on the journey. You’ll have to trust God, your congregation and your own discernment for the rest.